Morocco, New York’s most sophisticated nightclub

“Very soon The tropics it became famous as the place where more martinis could be found sec and the most beautiful women in Manhattan. Pretty girls attracted celebrities and sports stars: the good world mingled with politicians and the good world came with the press, and the club’s reputation continued to grow. “We are in our 30’s and Bobby Dorfman, a young Jew from New York, has recently returned from Hollywood. He is the manager of Hollywood’s most exclusive nightclub, where a bottle of champagne can cost a thousand dollars and forty-one carats on the fingers. cafeteria society of the time: European princes, movie stars and heiresses sit next to “a good number of prominent figures in New York’s attractive undergrowth.” Men and women are very elegant, ready to be noticed and cause scandal. It looks like a scene from a movie, and it comes from Coffee Society, the 2016 film in which Woody Allen invents the people and atmosphere of those years in his own way. But the description of The tropicsand its zebra stripes, are inspired by Moroccoa nightclub that really existed and was destined to leave an indelible mark on glamorous Manhattan until the 1960s.

They say that the then teenager John Perona, an Italian from Ivrea who would become the founder of Moroccoshould be among the passengers of the Titanic, but that he had missed the embarkation because he was distracted by the company of a woman. They also say – and this time the source is the obituary of New York News – that at the height of the glory of his club Perona had made the evening dress obligatory, and that no man in brown shoes could enter when it was dark. It is hard to imagine Perona, who had left Italy at the age of fifteen to make a fortune and had a boxing past in Argentina, as someone whose benevolence could depend on access to one of the most expensive, exclusive and elite clubs in Italy, Manhattan.

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It was his past that had determined his initial fortune. Luis Ángel Firpo, the boxer with whom Perona trained in Buenos Aires, arrived in New York to face the world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey for the title, in a challenge that would remain historic. Firpo told reporters there that after the match he would go to eat at the restaurant of his former teammate Perona, “the best in town.” To the little one of Perona they all came, from the Vanderbilts to the bottom: businessmen, sportsmen, entertainers. Perona would not have liked better publicity. The story of Morocco begins in 1931, the year Perona opened one speakeasy on East 54th Street in Manhattan, at 154. Two years later, when the end of the Prohibition allowed the official opening, the venue was already very busy: it would keep it for thirty years. Perona has stated that the secret of its success lies in knowing how to choose and mix customers “as the ingredients of a good sauce”. Compared to other more traditional clubs, such as the lo Stork Club, Morocco it had a more varied selection, which helped to give it an international and sophisticated air. There they could meet English Duchesses and young debutantes, people from the society of America’s richest families and playboys, gangsters and journalists, Hollywood stars and prostitutes. With its soft pink light, decorative white palm trees, and famous zebra striped sofas, the decor was anything but minimalist. In the black-and-white photos of the time, this almost striking ostentation worked like fat paint on the face of a stage actor. The zebra stripes behind them immediately recognized the club where, the night before, Rita Hayworth had made Gloria Vanderbilt laugh at her table; Frank Sinatra had entertained his guests while lighting a cigarette; or Elizabeth Taylor had been accompanied by one of her husbands. The guests drank champagne of the highest quality, chilled to the right point, and were entertained by two bands who took turns without pause, so that in the room always sounded the notes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin or some mambo and rumba south american. .

el morocco night club new york lifestyle 2022

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But as Lucius Beebe wrote, a journalist who in the 1930s and 1940s documented the nightlife of the rich and famous for New York Herald Tribune, Perona’s real trick had been to discover that for elegant, witty New Yorkers, no variety show was comparable to what they offered themselves. What he provided Morocco it was a brilliant staging in which anyone rich enough, handsome, and talented enough to be admitted dressed impeccably to get to know their fellows. The direction of the scenery and the supervision of the casting was Perona himself, together with a small circle of collaborators. The prestige of Morocco owes much to the photos of Jerome Zerbe, one of the first paparazzi in history and the only official photographer of the club. He was the one who transmitted to the newspapers the photos that the next day they would publish with the pieces, in which the club always had to be recognizable and the celebrities look better. Many of these stars were friends and clients of Zerbe, a Cleveland heiress who attended Yale and specialized in photographing social events at the height of the cafeteria society. Thanks to his good looks, wealth and personal charm, Zerbe himself became a member of the beautiful world he photographed. He was known for leading a rather scandalous and promiscuous life, which made him the patron saint of the gay scene in New York at the time: his lovers were also said to have heterosexual stars such as Cary Grant and Errol Flynn. And both Grant and Flynn were, of course, regular visitors Morocco.

el morocco night club new york lifestyle 2022

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However, the club’s exclusivity came at a price that its regulars could easily ignore. Despite the mix of customers that Perona had as the secret of her success, some ingredients could not be part of it: and if they managed to get in, they had to sit in the less glamorous part of the room. In the mid-1950s in the United States it was still considered normal for no high-ranking club to have blacks among its customers. One evening, Sammy Davis Jr. tried to enter one Morocco with a couple of friends. Once inside, and after the orchestra has sung some notes from the soundtrack of Wonderful sir, the Davis show had just closed successfully on Broadway, his friend realized it was over: they had been sitting on the wrong side of the room. Davis decided to order a drink and leave. Estée Lauder, a decade later, would also receive a table in “Siberia,” as the left side was called, despite the $ 1,000 tip she left to the butler. Lauder was not black, but he was Jewish, and “there was a feeling that if you had too many Jews it would not seem exclusive to you,” said the then sommelier.

el morocco night club new york lifestyle 2022

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In 1961 the club closed to move to another larger location on the same street, and shortly afterwards John Perona died. Also there cafeteria society it was set, replaced by wilder dances like the twist, by Andy Warhol with his Factory and its instant stars, and by a generation that no longer found it as an aspiration to dress elegantly to go out to dinner. Another common of MoroccoTruman Capote, in a few years would have organized one of the last major events in honor of that world, the famous Black and white ball. The new Morocco it was run for a few years by Perona’s son, and changed ownership a couple of times before it closed permanently in 1969.

el morocco night club new york lifestyle 2022

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What’s left of that era? This atmosphere seems unrepeatable. Surely it’s just that the era of black and white, of the Hollywood stars of the past, of the playboys will never return. But we will always have the zebra stripes.

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